This paper examines taste as a factor in beer's arrival as a symbol of modernity in India, Japan, and China. From nineteenth-century colonial production of India pale ale to contemporary attempts by global brewing firms to profit from a burgeoning Chinese market, beer has had an important but largely unexamined role in modern Asian-European encounters. This paper follows distinct agents of transmission—merchants, migrants, and empire builders—and their interactions with local drinking cultures to shape the particular tastes and meanings associated with beer in these countries. The case studies illustrate the different relationships that each country had with Western imperialism: India as a subject of British occupation, China as a site of commercial competition between imperial rivals, and Japan as a nascent imperial power in its own right. Beer gained least acceptance in the Indian subcontinent, in part because of Hindu and Muslim moralizing, and it symbolized western modernity for those who wished to challenge traditional culture. South Asian preferences often focused more on alcohol content than on the taste of malt or hops. The Japanese became Asia's most avid consumers of beer, adapting German lagers to local tastes. Chinese beer drinking has been limited to cities, and local brands are also bland, which reflects the place of beer within Chinese meals as a neutral grain. More broadly, I suggest that beer became a subject for nation-building efforts in Asia precisely because of its cosmopolitanism, which provided status to nationalist ideologues and supported their program of transcending regional rivalries.
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